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Cicchetti: the history of Venice’s famous snacks

(CNN) — “Cicchetti is the glue that unites Venice,” says mask maker Sergio Boldrin of Bottega dei Mascareri. “It’s impossible to think of finishing the job without stopping for a drink and a snack on the way home, meeting friends, learning about the day’s news.”

Ask a Venetian to define cicchetti and you’ll get as many answers as there are varieties of tasty bites. In a city that gets around on foot or by boat, snacking on cicchetti while drinking a glass of wine called ombra and chatting with friends in a bar called bacaro is an integral part of life in Venice.

Cicchetti can include everything from wavy sea creatures impaled on toothpicks and deep-fried meatballs called polpette, to colorful toppings spread on slices of baguette called crostini — and that’s just the start. Traditionally, you eat them standing up in a bar or right outside the door. The ritual of having a drink and snacking in a welcoming setting is what counts, it’s not street food to eat while strolling around town.

Cicchetti are inexpensive, costing around €1 to €5 ($1.10 – $5.50), depending on the ingredients. Each cicchetto is as creative as the individual who invents it, making a giro de ombre – a bacaro crawl – a chance to taste the soul of Venice.

Like many Venetian traditions, the cicchetti eaten by locals have transformed over the decades, but the ritual remains the same. In Italian, the word “ombra” means shade or shade; “shadow” is the plural. According to legend, centuries ago, vendors sold wine in Piazza San Marco, in the shadow of the Campanile (the giant bell tower) with their carts to keep the wine cool. The result? The expression “un’ombra di vino” or “a shadow of wine”.

The Venetians do not like to drink on an empty stomach, which is why the “cichéti” were born, coming from the Latin “ciccus” meaning “small quantity”. Initial offerings were simple morsels like boiled octopus or a hard-boiled egg topped with an anchovy. Establishments called “bàcari” evolved to serve shade and cicchetti, inspired by an ancient Venetian expression of “far bàcara” or “to celebrate” – a term which itself may have evolved from Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and pleasure. .

At Rialto, the ancient seat of international trade at the foot of the world-famous bridge, merchants conducted their business in the shadow of the church of San Giacomo di Rialto (known locally as San Giacometo), next to Banco Giro, the circulating credit bank. Cicchetti drizzled with an ombra was a type of fast food eaten by shopkeepers to quickly wrap up their deals while on their feet when there was no time to spare. Or so the story goes.

Cicchetti with tuna and cocoa

Stanley Tucci went in search of cicchetti in “In Search of Italy”.


A glass display case filled with a kaleidoscope of sliced ​​baguettes smeared with exotic toppings is Schiavi’s centerpiece in the Dorsoduro district. Also called “Bottegon”, the bar began life as a wine cellar at the end of the 19th century. In addition to dozens of fresh cicchetti, it serves around 25 wines by the glass and sells hundreds of bottles from the Veneto region, including wines from local aristocratic estates. You’ll find owner Alessandra De Respinis behind the counter every morning, chatting with her clientele while preparing her savory snacks.

When De Respinis’ father-in-law, Sisto Gastaldi, took over the bacaro in 1945, there was plenty of shade, but the only cicchetti on offer were pickled onions studded with anchovies, bologna and green peppers, along with boiled eggs. De Respinis began working at Schiavi in ​​1970 after Sisto’s death and her husband, Lino Gastaldi, took over from his father. Expanding Schiavi’s cicchetti menu became her life’s mission, and she began inventing her own tasty bites to accompany glasses of wine.

De Respinis cut fresh, crispy baguettes into bite-size pieces you could eat with two fingers. Tuna and leek, and gorgonzola and walnuts topped his initial creations. As she found her rhythm, her imagination was fueled by seasonal ingredients. She experiments by mixing colors and flavors, inventing new cicchetti devoured by the locals.

Now in her 70s, De Respinis has a team of descendants supporting her, but she still works every day until noon. She has created around 70 different specialties, including her award-winning tartare di tonno e cacao: tuna mixed with egg yolk, capers, mayonnaise and parsley, then dusted with bitter cocoa.

“My motto is to always serve fresh food,” says De Respinis. “At the end of the day, we offer what’s left to the last customers, or we eat it ourselves.”

“Cicchetti was humble food”

Cicchetti: the history of Venice’s famous snacks

Modern cicchetti – slices of baguette covered in toppings – are believed to have been invented by Alessandra De Respinis.


“There are no more cicchetti in Venice!” ton Franco Filippi, 73 years old. “The last real bacaro closed in 1980.”

Filippi is the owner of the Libreria Editrice Filippi, a bookshop specializing in all things Venetian and the oldest publishing house in the city. He can trace his family’s roots back to Venice in 1340. He does not own a television and has spent 40 years trying to decipher “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili”, that mysterious Renaissance book published by Aldo Manuzio in Venice in 1499 which has perplexed great thinkers for centuries.

When it comes to cicchetti, Filippi is an old-school purist. Indeed, he recently published a book by Sandro Brandolisio entitled “Cichéti” (spelled in the Venetian way), taking up recipes that the bacari prepared in the 1950s and 1960s.

“Cicchetti was humble food made from spienza, the spleen, or trippa rissa, the tripe – no part of the animal was wasted,” says Filippi. “It was cooked by the wife and sold by the husband and son. When we went on a giro de ombre it was because Maria made the best meatball on Tuesday, and Sofia made the best octopus on Wednesday But all those bacari are gone.”

Today, there are hundreds of places to eat cicchetti scattered throughout Venice’s bacari and osterie, but Filippi is adamant. “Crostini – spreading a filling on a slice of bread – is not cicchetti!”

Where (else) to eat cicchetti

Cicchetti: the history of Venice’s famous snacks

Today, a multitude of cicchetti are offered.


Wander through the calli on the west side of the Rialto Bridge in the San Polo district and you’ll come across several good bacari serving an assortment of cicchetti in various incarnations. Despite Filippi’s claims, crostini are ubiquitous, and it seems Alessandra De Respinis’ recipes in Schiavi have inspired many bacari to follow her lead, adorning baguette slices with creative inventions.

Tiny All’Arco is always packed with locals. Playing in the background is the musical sound of undulating Venetian voices ebbing and flowing like the lapping of water in the lagoon. There are dozens of fresh, seasonally changing crostini, from prawns to prosciutto and everything in between, plus little tables outside to sample them.
Cantina Do Spade has been around since 1488 and was one of Casanova’s old haunts – in chapter 17 of his erotic memoir, “A Story of My Life”, he recounts how he and seven of his friends seduced a young married woman into a back room of Do Spade during the 1745 carnival. You can join revelers in the calle for meatballs or grilled calamari, or sit down for a meal at the wooden tables inside.

Down the next street is the even older Cantina Do Mori, founded in 1462, which also claims Casanova as a former regular. Here you’ll find a local Venetian crowd and people doing business in the area with a hint of tourists, and no seating other than a handful of stools. The dark wood interior radiates antiquity, offering classic cicchetti and a good selection of wines.

According to tradition, Venice was born at noon on March 25, 421 AD in Campo San Giacomo, at the foot of the Rialto Bridge. Five bistros – Osteria Banco Giro, Ancòra, Osteria Al Pesador, Caffè Vergnano 1882 Rialto and Naranzaria – share the prime location as a large lounge, where you can stand in the campo to feast on one side, or pay more to sit at one table and contemplate the Grand Canal from the other. They all serve different variations of cicchetti. Banco Giro has evolved from 17th-century bank to 21st-century osteria and stands out for its fluffy house-made baccalà mantecato, a Venetian standard made with Norwegian stockfish, which is creamed and spread over crostini.

Michelin Star Cicchetti

Cicchetti: the history of Venice’s famous snacks

Gourmet or from the bar, the cicchetti are made with love.


Ristorante Local aims to propel traditional Venetian cuisine into the future. With her dedicated team, 36-year-old owner Benedetta Fullin has elevated Venetian cuisine to rock star level and earned a Michelin star for the effort. The interior of the local has been handcrafted by selected local artisans and only serves a tasting menu. But this menu kicks off with ever-changing cicchetti, inspired by the availability of fresh, local ingredients.

From the shadow of the old Campanile to the humble kitchens of the 1950s, to the inventive crostini of the 1970s and the “new Venetian cuisine” of the 21st century, cicchetti are constantly evolving but have one thing in common: they are made by of the Venetians. with camaraderie and love.


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